Saturday, November 04, 2006

Some thoughts on the 2006 garden

This will be a purely self-indulgent post, probably better kept to our gardening journal. But I thought some of you might be interested in how things have gone in the 10 Signs veg garden this year.

Arugula - I switched to Astro arugula this year because someone at the Athens Green Market was growing it successfully in August. Well, it does bolt a little less quickly than most varieties, but I think the real answer is to grow it in the cool season and/or put a row cover on it. And keep it picked.

Beans - All varieties successful (green, wax, Borlotti, etc.), although for some reason Scarlet Runner Beans took forever to start producing. Must remember to keep making successive plantings. New fence should keep deer from using them as salad bar.

Beets - Detroit Dark Red are easiest to grow. Burpee's Golden and Chiogga are much trickier to get going. They seem to like early spring better than fall.

Cabbage - Charleston Wakefield variety is by far the best. Chinese cabbage is also doing nicely. Both are best started in mid-August. Spring never seems like a good idea because the fall plantings are bearing by then.

Carrots - God, they're just awful to keep weeded, aren't they? But they are pretty easy otherwise. Parmex is still our choice for clayey soil, although it does seem to fare better in spring than fall.

Celeriac - I planted it early in flats, then transplanted it into the garden in spring. It's still in the ground, growing slowly and steadily. I figure I'll pick some soon. The only problem has been that I should have been more rigorous about separating seedlings that were growing next to each other. Most of my plants are doubled, and as a result the roots are crowded and small.

Chard - Variety doesn't seem to matter. It always thrives. I currently have a new batch growing (planted September 7), but last year's plants keep chugging along, despite (or perhaps thanks to) being cropped repeatedly by deer.

Cilantro - Variety doesn't matter, but it can definitely only be grown in the cool season. This year I lucked out and found countless volunteer plants growing in the shade of my late tomatoes. Now the tomatoes are gone, and there they are! Plenty to get us through fall.

Collards - I have been limping along on the same aged packet of Georgia Southern collards for years now. Predictably, the germination is getting a little patchy. But once begun, they are unstoppable. Spring and fall plantings do fine.

Corn - We give up. To hell with it.

Cucumber - Picklebush is the most wonderful variety! Can't say enough good things about it. Early plantings do better than later ones. Never bothered by pests.

Eggplant - Stunning success. Liked Ichiban especially well for its ease and tenderness. But the slightly trickier Rosa Bianca had beautiful, firm snow-white flesh and was also worth growing. Kept chugging all season and only gave up the ghost this week.

Escarole - Last year I tried planting it in spring, but it bolted awfully quickly and was useless. Can't remember what variety that was--something I got at the dollar store. Anyway, this fall I planted Biona a Cuore Pieno escarole on a couple of different dates in late September and early October. So far it is doing really well.

Kale - I no longer bother with anything but Lacinato, because the others taste like lawn to me. Fall planting is best; it lasts all through the year.

Kohlrabi - Better germination in spring than in fall. No idea why. Seems to grow well here. Must not leave it in the ground too long, or it gets woody.

Lentils - Low yield from much work. Might have eventually eked out a few pods if I hadn't accidentally weed-whacked them. Eh.

Lettuce - Always successful in both early spring and late fall. I keep planting Black-Seeded Simpson because it is so exuberant, but frankly, it's a little bitter even when it's small. Our favorites this year have been Lolla Rossa and Merveille des Quatre Saisons. They both take longer than most lettuces to get going, but then become lavish.

Mache - Still rotten luck, no matter what season. To hell with it.

Melon - Moderate success with Moon & Stars watermelons. They seemed very pest-resistant. I suspect if we try them in yummier soil next year, they will do fabulously. Charentais melons didn't do as well, but again, once they're moved to better soil, they may fare better.

Mustard greens - In the spring, I should only plant India mustard for eating; the more delicate Tendergreen mustard attracts flea beetles and is decimated. (This is actually useful if done intentionally. It is a nice decoy when you're trying to save something more valuable, such as eggplant.) In the fall, both varieties can be planted as late as the end of September. They are gorgeous and untouched by insects.

Okra - Stupidly easy to grow, if only I can keep the deer out of them. Their roots are deep and thick, and they are able to get nutrition out of even the clayiest soil.

Pac Choy - No success so far planting them in spring. But my fall plantings (Sept. 15 and 26) are gorgeous. I planted both Choko and White Stemmed varieties.

Parsley - Giant Italian variety has done really well this year. Planted in spring, but it didn't really start to excel until fall. It's still going, and will probably keep through spring--maybe forever.

Peas - Three words: Super Sugar Snap. They're productive and delicious. Tried a bush variety of shelling peas this spring and was unimpressed; the bushiness made them much more difficult to pick, so we'll go back to vine types in the future. This winter we plan to try to start some peas super-early in the hoophouse, then progress to our usual outdoor early spring planting.

Peppers - JalapeƱo always dependable and very productive. Ditto Cayenne. Friggitello, Hot Wax, and Satvros Peperoncini all did moderately well but were a little puny. I think I need to mulch and fertilize better to get larger, juicier fruits.

Potatoes - Grew Superior and Red Pontiac. Both were successful. We are now finding out that the Superior are very good keepers, but the Red Pontiac are not at all, so we should have dug all of the latter as new potatoes throughout the season. Overall, if I had to choose only one, I would definitely select the Superior. Might swap Red Pontiac for Red Norland next year.

Pumpkins - Disaster. Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkins especially susceptible to squash bugs and vine borers. May try them again, trellised up on the fence with tinfoil wrapped around their stems and board traps on the ground.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli - Plant in August for unbridled success in March. Gorgeous. Had good luck with Victory Seeds' PSB this past year. Currently, it and Nine Star Perennial White are both going gangbusters. No luck whatsoever with summer wok-broc types.

Purslane - Goldgelber is a great variety. Does really well in the heat of summer.

Radish - Regardless of the time of year, they must be picked young or they get woody. Some plantings do better than others, but I think it has more to do with the short-term weather at the time of planting than with the season overall. Heavy rains at maturity cause them to split. French Breakfast is milder, but rather susceptible to ugly greyish discoloration. Cherry Belle is very dependable--and gorgeous, to boot--but a little sharper-tasting. No luck with Sparkler.

Salsify - Finally got some going this year, although we haven't eaten it yet, so I can't vouch for it. Seems like kind of a pain. I mean, you buy these giant expensive packs of seeds that stop being viable after approximately five minutes. What a waste. Can someone sell me a packet of about 20 to 40 seeds?

Spinach - Finally got some Teton Hybrid to germinate at the end of September. Still not very impressive. Probably not worth it when the world is so full of lovely chard.

Summer squash - Exhausting, but I think doable. Different times of year bring different pests. Row covers may be key. One thing I know for sure is that the ground around the plants must be absolute scorched earth with no conceivable shelter for squash bugs. This year I think I will try to find some disease-resistant varieties, because the squash bugs carry so many bacterial wilts, etc.

Sweet Potatoes - Planted Porto Rico bush variety and liked it quite well. Next year, in looser soil, we expect an even better harvest. A little trouble with nematodes and scurf, but nothing crippling.

Tomatoes - Still on the learning curve. I do know one thing: Sungolds are absolutely indispensible. We started them indoors in spring, then again in the ground in August, and both times we had rampant success. We found Tigerella (AKA Mr. Stripey) very disappointing; ditto Marmande, which cracked terribly and grew in strange, fibrous shapes. San Marzano II was a complete failure, but then again it was in a clayey part of the garden that should have been prepared better. Maybe if we had amended the soil, we wouldn't have lost every single tomato to blossom end rot. Moderate success with an August planting of Big Boy Hybrid. Very pleased indeed with August planting of Principe Borghese, although now that the plastic is on the hoophouse, they are a little susceptible to blight. (The tomatoes are still coming in droves, though. We'll be growing them every year) We like Sungella a lot for their flavor, texture, and appearance, although now that the plastic is on, they keep cracking. Brandywine were useless earlier in the season, then much more successful in the fall, but now they've been frozen out. This winter we will be trying to grow Estiva and Valley Girl tomatoes in the hoophouse; they're supposed to be good greenhouse varieties.

Turnips - Shogoin turnips are supposed to do well here, but they always germinate like absolute crap. Never again. Purple-Top turnips are dependable and fast-growing in both spring and fall. Somewhat susceptible to grasshoppers.

Winter Squash - Butternut and Hasta La Pasta both horrible; see Pumpkins. Delicata slightly better but still unusable. Will be trying Tiptop F1 hybrid next year.